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December 30, 2015

Eagles players surprised by Kelly's dismissal, offer mixed reviews of ex-coach

Eagles NFL
123015_Barwin-Eagles_AP Steven Senne/AP

Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Connor Barwin.

Despite the fact that Chip Kelly -- the man who took sports science to a new level with the Philadelphia Eagles -- was no longer in charge down at NovaCare, there was still a smoothie waiting in Jordan Matthews' locker following practice on Wednesday.

Aside from the owner's press conference, the swarm of extra media and, of course, the absence of Kelly, it was just another day of practice in South Philly. After practice, however, focus turned to what went down the night before -- the release of Kelly, who was 26-21 in just under three full seasons as the coach.

And while you may think the notification or text message that alerted you the news was surprising, imagine how it felt to the players, most of whom found out in a similar manner.

"The Eagles app sent me a notification that said 'Chip Kelly has been released'," said Connor Barwin. "That's how I found out.

"I was at dinner and I was surprised. It's not something you're sitting at home or at dinner thinking about. I knew after the season there was probably going to be some changes. I didn't know who they would be or what would happen, but I expected some changes. But I had no idea whether it would be Chip or not, and didn't expect it to be last night."

Wideouts Jordan Matthews and Nelson Agholor were both informed by friends. In Matthews' case, that also happened to be a teammate.

"I actually got a call from Trey, Trey Burton," Matthews said. "He just called me and was like, 'Hey, do you know what just happened?' And I had no idea. I don't really watch television so he just told me and I was like, 'Really?' It kind of blew me away. But then he sent me one of the ESPN notifications. It was crazy. I had no idea it was coming. It was kind of a surprise."

"I had friends who were in tune to whatever was going on on social media and what not and shot me information," Agholor said of how he found out his coach had been fired. "And then I read Mr. Lurie's email."

Running back Kenjon Barner, who played under Kelly at Oregon, found out almost the exact same way I did -- from his parents.

"My mom and dad FaceTimed me and they're like, 'Do you know?' And I'm like, 'Know what?' They said Chip got fired and I'm like, 'Oh, what?' I don't even know where they heard it from," Barner explained. "I think my dad got an alert on his phone. And I was like, 'I don't even know what you're talking about. We just got home from practice, so I don't know if that's right.'"

Barner, like several other players, said he plans on reaching out to Kelly once the coach has had some time to deal with it on a personal level.

"I will [get in touch with Kelly]," Barner said. "I didn't want to reach out to him yesterday because I figured it's fresh. I'm sure he's getting bombarded with texts and phone calls. I just wanted to give him some time to deal with it how he deals with it. And I'll give him a call a little later."

Barwin also touched on the human side to someone losing his job, one that often gets lost in situations like this.

"All I know is as a player, I have to take advantage of my run-in with [Chip Kelly], that I got coached by him. I have to use that going forward."

"There's a personal aspect to it, where you wish you played better for your coach," he said. "Obviously all of these coaches have families, have kids and things of that nature. So you think about that aspect of it. And then, you know, you have to think about what's going to happen next -- who is going to be the next coach. Obviously, Chip was our coach. He's the one who brought in the majority of the players here; he's the one who picked all of us. Now, we'll have a new coach here soon and we'll all be evaluated again."

As for whether or not they agree with the move, most players said that was out of their hands.

"We don't worry about that too much because we understand that's just part of the business," linebacker Brandon Graham said. 

"I'm not an NFL owner. I just play ball," added Matthews. "So it's hard for me to say yes or no. Like I said, you're in the NFL, so there's always going to be guys who agree with some things and always going to be guys who disagree with some things. But for the most part, I just come in and do my job, so I can't really say yes or no either."

"That's none of my business," said Agholor. "I really don't know [why it didn't work]. All I know is as a player, I have to take advantage of my run-in with him, that I got coached by him. I have to use that going forward."

The rookie wideout wasn't alone in his praise of Kelly, but his was among the most effusive.

"I can speak for myself -- he had my respect," Agholor added. "He had my attention. I think the way he approached the game was second to none and he helped a young man like myself approach the game.

"I think he's a good coach. I think he helped me develop into a player. He also taught me some things in terms of technical and mental."

Some were more neutral, especially when it came to their personal relationship with their former coach.

"I had a good relationship with Chip," said Barwin. "I thought we communicated pretty well together. And that's just me. I think early on, maybe I should have tried to communicate better with him, but this year I thought I had an open communication with him and I had a good relationship with him."

"I don't feel like [Chip lost the locker room] at all. When you're having a tough season, things get hard, but I don't feel like he lost the locker room."

Barner, a former Oregon Duck, has known Kelly as long as almost anyone in the locker room, so when it came to communicating with him, that never seemed to be a problem like it was with other players.

"My relationship with Chip is a little different," Barner admitted. "I've known him since I was 18. But he was the same guy [with the Eagles] to me that he was back in Oregon. Our conversations were a little bit different because I'm older -- not an 18-year-old boy -- so interactions were different. But overall, the same guy."

And when asked whether or not he had a problem communicating with some -- and if that ultimately led to him losing grip on the locker room. 

"Everybody has an opinion," Barner added. "Everybody's way of communicating is completely different. So it's up to everybody's interpretation. 

"I don't feel like [he lost the locker room] at all. When you're having a tough season, things get hard, but I don't feel like he lost the locker room."

Matthews, who was drafted by Kelly in his first year with the Eagles, was less certain that the coach still had the collective ear of his team.

"That's hard to say, because I really judge it by how guys go out and practice every day," Matthews explained. "And guys still brought their energy today. I felt like guys were still bought in to the system of 'OK, we're going to go out to practice, we're going to work hard, we're going to play fast.' And guys were still doing that. 

"Once you start seeing guys say, 'Forget this. Peace out. I'm not doing this anymore' that's when I feel like you lost the [locker room]. Seeing guys maybe complain about stuff, like practice is too hard or this or that, I feel like that's a natural thing in the NFL. These guys are grown men that -- everybody complains about their job in America -- so that isn't any surprise."

The second-year wideout said, however, at the end of the day, his relationship with Kelly was all business. 

"There's always that business side to it," Matthews said when asked about how he got along with Kelly. "There's definitely the business relationship where it's like, 'OK, Coach Kelly brought me here; now I have to do my job to make it look like a smart decision.' Sometimes you want to be a little closer than that, but at the end of the day, you don't want to be close to your coach and not performing on the field. Then that doesn't do anything for either party. 

"So it was definitely one of those situations where he brought me in, trusted me with being a wide receiver here -- one of the main wide receivers here, if not the guy -- so I felt like that was a big responsibility for me to take on. So it's not like I spent days just going like, 'Oh, let's hang out all day.' I had to make sure I went in and got my job done. So that's pretty much how it was."

That's one of the things so many the players kept harping on -- that the game they play is anything but; it's a business, first and foremost. So while they may feel somewhat responsible for Kelly's sudden unemployment, they also understand these things happen, at work and in life.

"One thing I do know about the league is it's a business," Barner said. "Mr. Lurie and those guys up there they have to make business decisions based on what they think is best for this organization and that's exactly what they did."

For many, this coaching change was their first. Luckily, there are a few who have been through this before.

"We've got a lot of guys who have never been through a coaching change, so we've been talking to those guys, telling them the focus is on the Giants," said Graham, who was here three years ago when the team fired Andy Reid. "That's it. We don't worry about what we can't control. We don't make that call -- what's going on upstairs. All we know is that interim head coach Pat Shurmur is the coach and that's who we're following right now."

Oh, right. They still have a game to play on Sunday.

"We just want to get back to winning," Graham added. "That's all I care about."

Follow Matt on Twitter: @matt_mullin